In 1879, the Bishop of Ossory, Dr Moran, acquired from the State an agricultural college known as ‘model farm’, for the purpose of establishing an industrial school for the boys of the diocese. It was situated just over a mile outside Kilkenny city, and consisted of a large house with outbuildings on about 80 acres of land. He invited the Sisters of Charity to take over the management and control of the model farm and convert it into an industrial school.
On 23rd December 1879, St Patrick’s was certified as an industrial school for the admission of 186 boys up to the age of 10 years.
St Patrick’s Industrial School closed on 25th November 1966. All the boys resident in the School at the time were transferred to other institutions. Later that year, with the approval of the Department of Health, St Patrick’s reopened as a school for children with severe or minor learning difficulties. It still provides residential care, day care, respite care and a special school for those with learning disabilities.
During the period under investigation, 1933 to 1966, 1,282 boys passed through St Patrick’s. Of those, 1,176 were committed by the courts and 106 by other means. When the boys reached the age of 10, they were transferred to other industrial schools, usually at the end of a quarter. In March 1965, at the suggestion of the Resident Manager in a letter to the Department of Education, a new policy was adopted whereby the boys remained in St Patrick’s until the end of the school year.
The Sister who was appointed as the local Superior in St Patrick’s generally also acted as Resident Manager of the Industrial School.
The Sisters in the Community worked in various capacities in St Patrick’s, ranging from teachers and carers to working in the kitchen and laundry. In general, the number of Sisters in the Community was between 12 and 14, although it is not clear how many of them were actively engaged in the work of the School. The Community also employed lay female staff to work alongside the Sisters. Men were employed in the farm to work under the direction of a steward. In the later years, a few male employees were employed to care for the boys, supervising them at play and taking them for walks.
This Institution, like its counterpart, St Joseph’s, Kilkenny, was ahead of its time. Some of the Sisters of Charity received proper childcare training in a year-long course in London. The records indicate that two Sisters from St Patrick’s went to London for a refresher course in 1956 and introduced the groups system to St Patrick’s. It had already been introduced into St Joseph’s Industrial School, also located in Kilkenny, which catered for girls up to the age of 16.
In February 1966, the Department of Health wrote to the Superior General of the Sisters of Charity at Mount St Anne’s, Milltown, confirming a discussion held the previous month, in which it was agreed that St Patrick’s would cease to operate as an industrial school and would be used ‘on a permanent basis, as a residential centre for moderately and severely handicapped children – girls and young boys’.
Accordingly, in May 1966 the Superior General gave six months’ notice of the Sisters of Charity’s intention to resign their certificate as an industrial school.
Thirty boys were transferred to St Joseph’s, Kilkenny, some to Artane, and the rest were transferred to other industrial schools. The Sisters received a list of the transfers from the Department of Education, and they wrote back to the Department in July 1966, suggesting a few alterations to the list, as some of the boys had friends and wished to be placed together. The Resident Manager enclosed the modified list for the Department.
The Investigation Committee heard evidence from nine witnesses who were resident in St Patrick’s until they were transferred to another institution when they reached the age of 10.
The period of residence of the witnesses in St Patrick’s covered the period 1943 to 1966, when the School closed. Three witnesses were in the Institution in the mid to late 1940s; the remaining six were resident in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The majority of the witnesses were in the Institution from the age of 4 to 10 years.
Apart from the correspondence in the 1940s relating to children’s failure to gain weight and going barefoot, the Department did not appear to have had any concerns about this Institution. Each of the witnesses was transferred to another industrial school and had serious complaints to make about the later institution. All of them had been committed to St Patrick’s when they were nine years of age or younger. Their memories of life in the Institution were, therefore, vague. Nevertheless, many of them had very specific memories of incidents that occurred during their time there, which helped form a picture of St Patrick’s.
A complainant who was in St Patrick’s in the 1940s recalled the Institution before it was divided into the group system: It was a kind of a – it was a real institution, like. You know, like an orphanage, that’s how I felt. It was a very harsh regime as regards discipline ... I remember we were in the – it was like an auditorium that we were in. First thing in the morning before school we would do our catechism. We had to learn our catechism ... I remember one little boy ... he forgot his catechism. He couldn’t remember what it was and the sister that was doing the catechism – I can’t remember, I wouldn’t be sure of her name. It could have been Sr Tyra.1 She gave him, like, a beating in front of all of the boys. We were all sort of sitting there. She said "I am going to make an example of this boy and this is what you will get if you don’t remember your catechism". She beat him with a billiard cue ... Full length billiard cue, yes. That was the one major incident I can remember at that school.
He said the beating took place in the front of a large hall where all the boys could see it: He was brought down to the front where everyone could see him and the nun got this billiard cue. She made him bend over and she gave him a hell of a beating. Obviously we were terrified of seeing this.